TAMPA--On Monday morning, at a meeting of more than 100 Texas delegates and alternates at the Saddlebrook Resort 20 miles north of Tampa, one topic got the crowd more fired up than any other. Delegate Melinda Fredricks read aloud a letter condemning recent changes to the national Republican Party's rules that would allow the GOP presidential candidate to veto and replace state delegates.
"Our delegates are in shock that such an amendment even would be presented before the Rules Committee much less passed into rule," Fredricks said. "Please know from the Texas delegation standpoint that the only way a floor fight can be avoided is for this rule to be stricken."
At that point, the entire Texas delegation stood up and applauded.
Texans don't necessarily want to have an ugly floor fight on the same day the party officially nominates Mitt Romney. But they're willing to do it if their concerns about the rule aren't satisfied. The changes, which Mitt Romney's top lawyer put forward last week and Gov. Haley Barbour along with some other Romney supporters have embraced, are seen by opponents as intended to significantly weaken the power of grassroots politics and insurgent candidates such as Ron Paul. Many against the move worry that it would give national candidates the power to replace delegates--often grassroots party faithfuls--with big-time donors or friends.
"We truly consider that an infringement on our rights," Fredricks, a member of the rules committee, told Yahoo News of the changes. Today, states generally choose their delegates at state conventions, and then those individuals travel to the national convention to cast their vote for a candidate based on the share the candidate won of the primary or caucus vote of each state. But the changes could allow a candidate such as Mitt Romney to boot out any delegates who are assigned to vote for him and replace them.
While opposition to the rules began with Ron Paul supporters, it has spread to the entire Texas delegation and significant portions of those from South Carolina, Colorado, Virginia and Louisiana too. Mitt Romney's campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg proposed the rule last week, but even some Romney supporters are staunchly opposed to the changes. Indiana delegate and Romney supporter James Bopp wrote in an email to RNC members that it's "the biggest power grab in the history of the Republican Party." Fredricks, a Romney supporter, says only 30 people of the more than 300 Texan alternates and delegates support Ron Paul, yet the delegation is "united" in its opposition to the rule.
At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, the Rules Committee members will debate whether the new rule should be struck down. Fredricks thinks she has the 29 members necessary to start a debate about the change, and is hopeful she can resolve the issue before the committee adjourns and joins the larger convention floor.
"We like to fight behind closed doors. ... Most of us are reluctant to do a floor flight," Fredricks said.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told Salon Monday that he does not expect a floor fight, though he did not explain why.
Paulites are among the staunchest opponents of the new rule. It would prevent insurgent candidates such as Paul from raking up delegate votes in caucus states where party conventions instead of the statewide vote determine how many delegates are awarded. ABC's Chris Good points out that Paul would not have won a plurality of delegates in four states if this rule had been in effect during this primary.
Paul supporter Karen Skrill, an alternate delegate from Vermont, said she and her husband, Stewart, a delegate, are upset about the changed rules.
"If this is how it's going to be, I don't want to be a Republican," Skrill told Yahoo News in a discussion on the floor Monday. The Skrills are retired farmers.
"Texas in general doesn't believe the national level should be picking delegates," added Jon Burgin, an alternate delegate from San Antonio who supports Paul. "It's pretty egregious."